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Impartiality imperilled

A bulwark of our public discourse is threatened by cultural, economic and technological change. If we want to save it, we may have to reshape the system of public service broadcasting that currently enshrines it

By David Cox   September 2007

British broadcasting has been buffeted recently by the exposure of fakery and deceit in various programmes. But in the background a more fundamental issue looms. The doctrine of impartiality—long lauded as one of the great achievements of our communications culture—is coming under threat.

Impartiality in broadcasting is a product of accident rather than design. In the medium’s infancy, the airwaves were a scarce resource, so monopoly was inevitable. Control was entrusted to a privileged few. Abuse of power was feared, and a safeguard was sought. The requirement that broadcasters should stay detached from both interests and opinions emerged to meet…

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